Most people think of a screenplay in the sense of it being a screenwriter’s final sign-off. The truth of the matter is much more complicated, as while the script may take 10 or more years to get to the point of being optioned, it can sometimes seem like the starting over. There’s a lot of politics in the process of a script getting ready for production. Studios may want to have their writers take it apart and put it back together again, directors may want to adjust the script to make it more in tune with their vision… ultimately, a screenwriter may have to make peace with the fact that their baby may end up not looking like the thing they intended in the first place.
While there are a lot of hoops to jump through in order for a script to get to its final destination, it does help to know the difference between a script and a director’s or shooting script. Outsiders may not know variations even exist and even on set the terms “script” and “director’s” script may be used interchangeably, so it helps to know the differences in purpose, scope and intended readership.
The script or screenplay is a blueprint for the story, a foundational element to offer guidance when it comes to the detailed outline of the story, characters, dialogue and setting. The screenwriter is responsible for crafting a compelling narrative, a script that engages the audience and literally sets the scene for the film’s visual and emotional impact.
Whereas the director’s script or shooting script goes one step further to incorporate directorial instructions and technical details. There to help guide the creative process and get everyone on the same page, the shooting script is more detailed, able to translate the director’s vision or intended artistic ambition for the picture. Whether there to remind the director themselves or offer a more intricate window into their mind’s eye, the shooting script is there to encompass overarching visual narrative elements, whether addressing flow or character development.
A script typically follows the standard three-act format while a director’s script is more fluid and adaptable. Scripts are intended for more general audiences, including screenwriters, producers and investors, while the director’s or shooting script is primarily used by a director and crew. While a script usually crystalises to its final draft form, a director’s script is more malleable and evolves through out the filmmaking process.
When it comes to formatting, there are a few key differences or enhancements you’ll notice in a director’s script. The director specifies the type of shots to be used, such as wide shots, close-ups, and establishing shots. Directors provide dynamic instructions on camera movements, such as panning, tilting, and tracking. The director will indicate the desired lighting setups to create specific moods and atmospheres. The director may include notes on sound effects to enhance the realism and emotional impact of certain scenes.